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July 12, 2019  

Should We Save The American Mall?

July 12, 2019

You’ve seen the photographs: empty food courts with broken windows and layers of shadowy graffiti, weeds reaching up through the floor of a long-vacant department store. Shopping malls across America are slowly dying off—and when that last Gap or Hot Topic finally closes up shop, the building often sticks around to rot, becoming its own monument to our cities’ bad financial decisions of the past.

But some think that the American shopping mall might still have a second life ahead of it. It just might not involve Orange Julius and shopping bags.

As CityLab reports, entrepreneur and Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang has introduced a new policy proposal he’s calling the American Mall Act. Rather than resuscitate the retail behemoths, however, he’s proposing a $6 billion plan aimed at incentivizing developers to repurpose the mega-shopping centers for more financially productive uses—and yes, that does include those giant parking lots.

It all sounds pretty good, right? But Upzoned hosts Chuck Marohn and Kea Wilson aren’t so sure—and in this episode, they’re digging into the details.

With the average American mall costing about $24.9 million to develop, how exactly would that hefty $6 billion pot be spent? What would it take to change our zoning codes to even make a meaningful mall redevelopment possible in most of our communities? Are there towns where the malls are likely to reinvent themselves without government intervention—and are there towns where we’d be better off investing our money anywhere but the giant concrete shopping center on the edge of town? And when things are truly beyond hope, how do you move your community from a conversation about how to get the mall back on its feet and into a conversation about how to make your whole place stronger—even if the mall sits empty?

Then in the Downzone, Chuck talks about his new favorite nautical thriller TV, The Terror, and his best recent recent read, The Theft of a Decade: How Baby Boomers Stole the Millenials’ Future (hint: it’s not a total Boomer bashfest). And Kea talks about a book she loved about everything human beings do underground, The Underland, as well as her weekend plans: throwing an extremely extra breed reveal party for her dog. (Tune in next week to hear the hotly anticipated results.)